The Red Riding Trilogy (DVD)

Fans of David Peace’s Red Riding series of novels might wonder why the televisual treatment of the author’s work has turned the quartet of books into a trilogy. A better question is how it ever came to be made at all. Because the fantastically ambitious series is unlike anything else you’ll be lucky enough to see.

The Red Riding TrilogyThe three interlinked chapters centre on crime and corruption in West Yorkshire through the '70s and '80s. Taut and brilliant, dark and disturbing, make no mistake – this is extreme stuff. Child molestation, kidnapping, murder, torture and police brutality are all heaped on with heavy lashings of mystery, conspiracy and occult overtones. Over the three movie-length chapters by three different directors, the Red Riding Trilogy never flinches from difficult material but barrels along at a relentless pace with cinematic quality.

If there's one problem, it's that the dense storylines can be perplexing. A lot has been packed into these five hours. Be warned, there’s enough twists and turns to confuse the most diligent audience. Try to keep up – seemingly innocuous elements will turn out to be crucial further down the track. Head-scratching confusion aside, Channel 4 should be rightfully proud of its achievement. The bleak brilliance, all-star cast and massive production values prove television can go head to head with the best the big screen has to offer.

Red Riding 1974
Novice crime reporter Eddie Dunford has just joined the Yorkshire Post after a stint down south. On the upside, his standard working day now consists of necking pints of bitter and chain smoking in seedy paisley-wallpapered pubs. On the downside, he is caught up in a conspiracy, repeatedly threatened, beaten, imprisoned and tortured. The first instalment takes us deep into 1970s northern England. Distrust, paranoia and corruption are rife. While covering the story of a missing young girl, Dunford heads ever deeper into a labyrinthine mystery of institutionalised corruption. His stoic search for truth is matched only by an almost commendable lack of self-preservation instincts, surrounded as he is by some truly nasty coppers. Once you get past his uncanny resemblance to Andy Murray, the cocksure Dunford (Garfield) is a taciturn, arrogant but oddly charismatic protagonist, with able support from Sean Bean and the suddenly inescapable indie It Girl, Rebecca Hall. There’s nothing sentimental about this 1974 Britain. The grim reality of 1970s northern England is so real you can taste the hotpot and Embassy Filters.

EXTRAS Interview with director Julian Jarrold; Deleted scenes.Red Riding 1980They say life runs slower up north. Six years may have passed, but the West Yorkshire Police as corrupt and dirty as ever. The lawmen are the same lawless bunch, but the crimes are a whole lot bigger. Now the Yorkshire Ripper is terrorising the north. A string of women are dead. Shops close early. People are afraid to walk the streets at night. Into this battleground ambles Peter Hunter, a Manchester copper enlisted by the Home Office to review his West Yorkshire counterparts’ botched investigations into the serial killings. Hunter is already a pariah after leading an internal review into the events at the climax of Red Riding 1974. This seemingly whiter than white copper is exposed to the endemic corruption plaguing the West Yorkshire force. But who can he trust? The high-profile backdrop of the Ripper murders puts us into instantly familiar territory. Seemingly incorruptible Hunter (Paddy Considine) is a dishevelled, albeit rather dull, gumshoe in the traditionally tragic mould. 1980 is the series' most straightforward detective story, though it's still disorienting at times. Keeping up with this whodunit can be a trial thanks to a steady stream of names, dates and events mumbled in typically brooding dialogue through thick regional accents. Despite this, the film grabs hold from the news reels-style opening credits and doesn’t let go until the explosive finale.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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